Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Animal Encounters

Two nights ago I heard 2 creatures calling to each other. Broke into a dream, and it seemed to fit there for a minute, but couldn't remember it in the morning. One voice would call, and then another. Finally, gaining some consciousness, I wondered if it was peacocks, or perhaps foxes. But why would I be hearing peacocks? Couldn't figure it out. When Tom got up at 6, he saw them. Two young male peacocks, on the deck. They were probably keeping each other company in the night, talking the night terrors away. Beautiful turqoise, green feathers with short tails. Quite magical. They didn't stay around for a photo shoot, though. Too bad.

We've had some great encounters with animals and birds. Just missed seeing a salt water crocodile (thank god!) along the rock pool shoreline when we got to Townsville. Would have been great to see it from far off... The wind was up and the water was murky, so the people who saw it questioned their judgment at first. Then they reported it to the lifeguards. Several helicopter flybys later, it was spotted. Later that day we walked along the shore, returning through the national park at the end of Stephanie and Peter's neighbourhood just north of Townsville. Along the path, near the parking lots, there were several crocodile warning signs in english, japanese, and german. Recent crocodile sightings. That's a creature I'd like to see from a far distance only. It's just the beginning of stinger season there, and most beaches have a stinger net set up to provide some salt water safety for swimmers.

In the waters around Magnetic Island we spotted several green turtles, swimming about, surfacing, diving. A good size. Visting the Reef aquarium in Townsville (Reef HQ), we watched a diver cleaning the tanks and listened to his talk about the larger, carnivorous fish in the tank. He held the big green turtle and massaged its back. The turtle went limp in his hands, enjoying the massage. Apparently they have nerves along the inside of the carapace, which is often ripped from live turtles as it is a prize worth having. Imagine the agony. That was a mind stopper.

We didn't see sharks outside the tank, in the ocean, but we were introduced to several well fed sharks, cruising by the diver as he talked to us. The biggest shark was actually sleeping on the bottom of the tank, completely uninterested in any of the fish or the diver. They are fed regularly, so they aren't cruising for food necessarily. He did have a story about a newer fish that had been hiding in a part of the tank for several months -- the "new" fish finally ventured out, only to be eaten by some of the larger, hungrier (I think) wrasses.

The leopard sharks were producing many egg sacs. These are amazing. They are the size of a slightly flattened tennis ball (opaque to clear), attached to a structure resembling tree bark. It's relatively easy to peer into the egg sac and see if the embryo is viable or not. The particular leopard shark in question had produced 55 egg sacs in the previous weeks, with 21 viable shark embryos. Like an amniotic sac, but on the outside. Their first egg sac is set to be born on Christmas Day. And they're hoping for a male, as all the previous sharks born to this particular female have been female. I couldn't resist the obvious... Outside the tanks, the ocean water was murky, due to the higher than normal winds. So unfortunately we weren't able to snorkel in the live environment. Another time! Tom did meet up with a little green frog, resident of the toilet near the airfield where Peter stores and flies his ultralight (pics to follow). The handle didn't want to go down all the way, so he stopped, then tried again. All of a sudden there was a little green frog in the toilet bowl. Apparently it lives somewhere in either the tank or the bowl, and so far has avoided going for a much longer ride.

I think the animal encounters will just continue. Brush turkeys everywhere in northern NSW and Qld. Pelicans by the 100s on Sunday along the foreshore of Port Philip, south of the CBD . A gigantic star fish in the tide pool. Squid and purple starfish, washed up on the beach last April, saved from cooking in the sun by G,K, and N. Our king parrot visitors return occasionally. Perhaps the snacks I offered weren't the tastiest, so they're not always around. The kookaburras are daily fixtures, probably living in one of the trees around the yard. The huntsman hasn't appeared lately. Moved on? Kangaroos and wallabies. Emus, in the wild and in the animal shelter. No wild platypus, but a very active one in the Healesville animal shelter. And sometimes it feels as if we have become blase with kangaroos and wallabies, but they are all around us. We're still waiting to visit the wombat who lives down the lane... one of these evenings we'll go and sit quietly.

I'm trying to be calm and friendly about the possums, but they fight so much, and make so much noise as they enter their sleeping quarters, it's amazingly difficult to get more than one or two hours of sleep. I had visions of grabbing one and doing it some major damage, but they're too fast, and they run right up the trees. I did rush onto the deck last night, as one impudently showed us its tail... took off like a shot!

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